Monday, March 24, 2014
EXMOUTH’s jobless, lone parents and those too ill to work must continue the long trek in to Exeter’s job centre.
That’s the blunt message from the Department for Work and Pensions, which says it has ‘no intention’ of reintroducing a job centre into Exmouth.
And the decision has far wider implications.
Soon those currently claiming working tax credit will also have to make the 23-mile round trip to attend Exeter’s job centre, possibly on a regular basis.
That’s because the new universal credit – combining in-work and out-of-work benefits – will require all claimants to accept a ‘claimant commitment’, setting out their responsibilities.
The new document will be drawn up during an interview with a ‘work coach’ at a ‘local’ job centre. Claimants may also be expected to attend regular interviews to ‘discuss’ their progress.
Currently being trialled in Greater Manchester and Cheshire, universal credit will be rolled out across the UK by 2017.
“Without a doubt, visits to Exeter’s job centre will increase once the universal credit is introduced,” said Sarah King, project coordinator for Exmouth’s Glenorchy Work Club.
“Those claiming employment and support allowance [ESA] and lone parents who have children under five are already attending Exeter job centre for mandatory interviews.
“Also you’re going to get people currently on working tax credit going to universal credit. If they’re not earning enough, they are going to have to go in as well to show that they are looking for more hours of work. So there’s going to be more people going in to Exeter’s job centre.”
“The numbers travelling in to Exeter could be huge and it may prove difficult for the job centre to provide quality support to all those accessing its services,” said Helen Burgess, manager of Exmouth’s Open Door Centre, an umbrella organisation working with local churches.
“Not only that, but the challenges that are currently being faced in terms of a long and expensive journey to Exeter job centre would be arguably even greater.
“Lone parents would have to find childcare while they attend appointments, those who are too ill to work may well be too ill to make journeys in to Exeter and those who are claiming working tax credits will have to take time off work, which may not be practical.
“This presents an even stronger argument to provide a job centre satellite in Exmouth. It seems many more people will be affected within the next few years, so the sooner we have a job centre in Exmouth, the better, as far as I can see.”
However the DWP says it won’t reverse its decision to close Exmouth’s job centre because the “rationale” behind the 2008 closure “has not changed”.
In addition, DWP says that access to the job centre services via computer or phone has increased “considerably”, adding “further weight to the original rationale”.